The Fruits of Our (and Mother Nature’s) Labour

Allotment wilflowers
As the season of summer finally starts to show what she can really do (yes, summer would definitely be a lady), we begin to watch in wonder as the flowers and fruits begin to bloom. The previous owners of our allotment took pride in creating a small patch that they dedicated to growing wildflowers on. We have opted to keep this.

I think that some folk see allotments as those bastions of old men, surrounded by soggy crops, homing pigeons, the loud crowing of cockerels and hours of sweat and toil in return for mammoth-sized onions and cabbage. Don’t get me wrong – those types of allotments exist; I have seen them, but the freedom of a large (or small) plot can be so much more.
Allotment wildflower patch
We kept the flower patch. Amidst all the crops at the top of the allotment is the small country cottage style garden resplendent with wild and naturally occurring plants. My Nan would call them “angel comers” as they were planted by seemingly God’s own hand – in truth usually naturally propagated or seeds dropped from the mouth of a passing bird. I love the poetic idea that we are at the whim of something greater and despite our best intentions things will just grow where they wish. In fairness anyone who has tangled with returning weeds will certainly share that feeling!

Take a look – see what you think. In amongst the flowers grows two or three varieties of mint, every hue and shade resplendent in colour. Some of the purists would argue that they serve no purpose – but equally the same critics would care little for making their own garden burst with blooms.
Craig's strawberry harvest
We did get the ultimate taste of summer this year – a bumper crop of wild strawberries. Our boy spent hours picking (and eating!) the best of them. Despite being told he had to save some for the rest of us he was un-thwarted and did his best to consume as many of them as he could! And whilst I would disapprove of such gluttony on French fries or burgers, the produce of our allotment is a very different matter.
Courgette blossomsPink flower
As you can also see, we are looking forward to a bumper harvest of tomatoes and courgettes – we seem to have been over-run in both of our greenhouses. We have already had several of the young vegetables, simply skewered, drizzled with olive oil and grilled – they were amazing! It is fair to say we will be looking for plenty of recipes that use tomatoes and courgettes. Have you got any ideas? I would love to hear them, cook them and then let you know just how we get on.

Cheers!
Craig

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Love and the Garden


Having caught an old episode of Sex and the City on satellite late one night, my husband joked that I was turning into the Carrie Bradshaw of the gardening world. Although there is no physical resemblance – apart from the fact that we both have blonde hair – By buying and collecting plants in the manner that Carrie does shoes and writing articles about our respective experiences, perhaps she and I, although worlds apart, are more alike than we realise. So to the horror of my husband (who after all was only taking a pop at my shopaholic nature), it began to dawn on me that maybe I ought to take my gardening persona a little more seriously and try and look the part.
Lucy's Garden Rigger Boots
So today I invested in a pair of Riggers. My mentor would be so proud. The Jimmy Choo of the safety footwear world and just as uncomfortable to wear (although perhaps a little heavier). To ensure my transformation is complete, my old tatty sweatshirt and jogger bottoms have been replaced by a pair of jeans and a new (to the garden anyway) hoodie – so very de rigueur. It’s about time I take this garden malarkey seriously and look the part!

And so, to tackle and reclaim a lost patch of a friend’s garden (hence my new-found preference for safety boots over my usual flip flops), tug of war with a rampant ivy that has overtaken a tree is swiftly followed by full body combat with fallen tree branches. An assault on a carpet of weeds and brambles follows and not a power tool in sight – girl power!
Three hours later and the transformation is complete, but not just of the garden it seems. A quick glance in the mirror confirms the truth. The job has taken its toll. My face and hands, despite gloves, are smeared with mud in manner of an army sniper’s combat uniform and Worzel Gummidge’s tatty head looks styled by Toni and Guy in comparison to my barnet. It’s not often that I need to brush my hair over the bath to catch the falling debris!

My husband now calls me Twiggy for all the wrong reasons. I understand from Carrie that camouflage is, like my daffodils, so last season. Needless to say Carrie and I have parted company and my jogger bottoms and paint spattered sweatshirt have been re-instated. I have come to the realisation that it’s me or the garden – we can’t both look good.

Lou C

The Outdoor En-Suite

Over the past few years we’ve had some building work done on our house. Unfortunately it took longer than expected, so in the thousand years that the builder was with us I built up quite a stock of expectation about what I could do when the world righted itself. I also built up a stock of surplus household fittings for one reason or another. One of those was a large bath that had been relegated to the back garden due to it having a chip out of the side. A new one was delivered but we kept hold of the old one as I figured it would make a pretty good plant pot.
Plants under netting
Then a little while ago one of my neighbours very kindly popped over with a load of strawberry plants. She’d planted them out and they’d run wild so she was trying to get rid of a few. I was over the moon and decided to plant them in the bath. I put the bath on a few bricks to raise it for drainage and then started to fill it with bits of masonry and bricks, polystyrene and compost, anything really that I could hide in the bottom of the bath rather than taking to the tip.
Outdoor En-Suite
I planted the strawberry plants in the bath and covered it over with netting so the birds couldn’t get to it and I’m pleased to say that, despite all the rain we’ve been having, the strawberries are thriving. We’ve been picking quite a few of them and we even made ice-cream with them. The raspberries are all starting to ripen too so it’s mixed berries for pudding.
Delicious homegrown strawberries
I also found a butler sink going cheap that I’ve put to good use as an outside sink underneath the outside tap. It’s perfect for sitting pots in when they need a good soaking and for filling up so the children can do some of the watering for me, though they seem to prefer using the hose so they can soak each other.
Sink and rockery garden
To finish off the set I somehow ended up with not one but two toilets that weren’t needed. One of them had a crack in it but the other was just surplus. Now I know builders, friends and loved ones all think I’m nuts but I quite fancy using these unusual porcelain pots in the garden. I’ve been trying to decide what to put in them and where to put them in the garden. I did consider planting my Jerusalem artichokes in them but didn’t think it would be palatable to eat a tuber that was wrested from a u-bend so now I’m thinking maybe alpines might work but if anyone has any suggestions please let me know.

Thanks,
Lisa

The Last Straw

There are times when I really feel like giving it all up and just let the garden do its own thing! It’s not the weeds, but the rabbits, the slugs & snails, and the WEATHER!
Rosa seagull plant in garden
It was almost the last straw this morning when I went out to find that the strong blustery winds yesterday and last night had snapped off my lovely Amelanchier grandiflora ‘Ballerina’ that I planted last autumn. Yes, it was supported, but I’d only used soft garden string so the stem wouldn’t get damaged. With all that rocking, the string had broken and there it was this morning, lying flat. Sorry – no pictures – I didn’t have the heart. What I have done is to carefully pick it up (it was still attached low down) and tie it back in with stronger twine. I don’t know whether it will recover or not. Perhaps it will shoot up from the bottom. We’ll have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, checking on the rest of the garden, I have discovered that something has had a go at my nice new Rosa ‘Seagull’. Just a few leaves remain. I suspect Peter Rabbit – but how he’s managed to sneak in through the wire netting, I just don’t know… That too is now swathed in additional netting.
Netted up strawberry plants
On to the strawberries – which were doing nicely yesterday, thank you, and all tucked in under their netting. So was it you, Mrs Blackbird, who managed to find another way in? Or perhaps it was the magpies – there are a family of four cheeky siblings bouncing about. Whoever it was didn’t think much of my luscious fruit as it was spat out – both ripe and green.

Lettuce growing in a containerA wood pigeon in the gardenNearby are my containers of ‘Salad Bowl’ lettuce. They too are looking under the weather. Slugs? Or perhaps the pigeons? The wood pigeons waddle about, how they get off the ground I just don’t know – they are so fat at the moment. Perhaps it’s time for pigeon pie to go back onto the menu.

Potatoes growing in potato barrelSo, come on woman, cheer up… there’s a nice piece of bacon doing very well in the slow cooker and the new potatoes are ready to pick. I bought one of those tiered potato containers this year and started them off in the greenhouse. They might not be as early as some, but those in it are a good few weeks ahead of the ones in the ground.

Jackie

The Circle of Life in Our Own Pond

Charlotte and son by pondWhen purchasing our new home, my husband and I had mixed feelings regarding the pond. It’s petite, measuring less than a metre in diameter; however our concerns were more significant in size. With two young children we were worried about the risk of drowning. My father had already filled in his large pond and although I share his concern I was reluctant to destroy this precious habitat. A body of water, no matter how small, is one of the best ways to support wildlife in the garden. As our pond is overgrown with iris roots it’s barely 2 inches deep and is surrounded with plants to deter children from venturing too close. Thus, it was permitted to remain intact. Obviously it remains a hazard, so youngsters are warned of the dangers and monitored around the water.

I had little idea how valuable this small pool would prove to be until one spring morning when my eye was drawn to something twinkling in it. Closer inspection revealed that during the night an amphibious visitor had gifted us a batch of frogspawn. I was so excited I almost fell in trying to get a better view.
Adult Frog in Pond
I called over my toddler who, whilst thrilled, seemed a little perplexed. As a biologist I’m fascinated by the creation of life and thus got a little carried away describing, in detail, the frog life cycle. Clearly this was too much for a two year old to comprehend but after some simplification we classified the new arrivals as ‘baby frog’s eggs’. The most baffling part was how the frogspawn had found its way into our pond since we’ve never seen a frog nearby. We clearly hadn’t looked closely enough. Careful removal of a few rocks revealed a beautiful adult specimen. I’m no expert so was unable to determine its’ sex but it I’d like to think it was the female who laid the batch, keeping watch over her brood.
Tiny tadpole from pond
Keen to use this exciting development as a learning opportunity, we spent the afternoon reading every frog-related book in the house and downloading illustrations of their life cycle. Since then we’ve monitored our ‘babies’ regularly, observing the changes, drawing them and discussing their development. We took care to ensure the pond did not dry out during this critical period, topping it up regularly from our water butt. It was wonderful to witness the minute black specks growing larger and taking on the characteristic tadpole form before finally hatching out. Once this significant step had been taken I could be found, almost daily, leaning precariously over the water, ‘fishing’ for tadpoles.
Tiny little frog on leaf
Containing the tadpoles briefly in a jamjar allowed us to observe their growth, progressively losing the tail and sprouting legs. Our weeks of surveillance came to fruition when one ‘fishing trip’ caught more than anticipated. I’m not sure who was more surprised when a miniscule froglet leapt from a lilypad into the pond! Gently scooping up the tiny but perfectly formed amphibian, I presented it to my children, whose faces lit up with delight.
Baby frog on hand
I’m amazed how many have survived adulthood in such a tiny pool. It’s proof that even a small body of water can attract and support wildlife in the garden. I’m delighted we took the decision to retain our pond as it’s proved beneficial not only to the resident amphibians, but also to my family, who’ve gained great pleasure and knowledge from it. We anticipate more exciting experiences next spring, as the circle of life continues, and hopefully our little froglets return to spawn the next generation.

– Charlotte